President Obama amped up his rhetoric about the Iranian government crackdown on protestors Tuesday afternoon, expressing concerns about the death of a young woman who’s become an icon of the protests – Neda Agha-Soltan — but also not indicating any policy shift towards the Islamic Republic.
“The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days,” the president said at the top of his press conference. “I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.”
The president was non-committal about future steps with the rogue regime, which he has repeatedly suggested should engage in diplomacy with the West.
“We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed,” Mr. Obama said. “But to reiterate, there is a path available to Iran in which their sovereignty is respected, their traditions, their culture, their faith is respected, but one in which they are part of a larger community that has responsibilities and operates according to norms and international rules that are universal. “
The president said that “in 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers. “
He paid homage to the “timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence” and “people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard. Above all, we’ve seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we’ve experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.”
The latter reference was to Agha-Soltan, about whose death the president later said, “it’s heartbreaking. It’s — it’s heartbreaking. And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust about that.”
But while the president said it “it’s important for us to make sure that…we let the Iranian people know that we are watching what’s happening, that they are not alone in this process,” he underlined that “ultimately, though, what’s going to be most important is what happens in Iran. “
The president refused to judge the legitimacy of the elections, saying “we didn’t have international observers on the ground. We can’t say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country.”
And asked if Iranian diplomats still had standing invitations to US Embassies to celebrate the 4th of July, the president suggested that the invitation remains. “We don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Iran,” he said. “I think that we have said that if Iran chooses a path that abides by international norms and principles, then we are interested in healing some of the wounds of 30 years in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations. But that is a choice that the Iranians are going to have to make.”
The president rebutted charges made by Iranian leaders that US operatives have played a role in fomenting dissent, saying “the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs. …The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future…. Some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the elections. These accusations are patently false. They’re an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran and the future that they — and only they — will choose.”